What it takes to be a more mindful leader

Natalie Snooke - Wednesday, July 12, 2017

I am always on the lookout for inspiring, real-life examples of corporate leaders who embody mindfulness.

This morning while enjoying my ritual morning chai at a local West Perth cafe, I couldn't help but eavesdrop on a conversation between three people at the next table.

To use HR speak, it was an 'on-boarding' meeting between two business owners and a new employee they were orientating to their business.

And as I listened-in with interest on their dialogue, it soon became apparent that these were two very mindful leaders.

The focus of their exchange over a coffee wasn't about policy and process, or performance expectations, reporting relationships or even the expected hours of the job. The focus was about getting to know the new employee and finding out what they needed from the organisation to work at their best. Sure, they shared an inspiring business vision and described their workplace culture, but the exchange was more about connecting and understanding than telling.

The tone of the conversation was calm and spacious. There were several relaxed pauses after each person spoke that showed deep listening. Even though one of the business owners had to leave shortly after the meeting began to attend another meeting, there was no hint of rush or urgency to cover a heap of material or to get across a particular viewpoint.

The two business owners eached talked about their families and the challenges around balancing work and family life. One shared about their morning meditation practice which helped them to manage stress and to be kinder to their partner. The other said they loved cycling and invited the new employee to join their local group.

A positive, yet gentle rapport had soon developed to the point where the new employee took the time to reveal some quite personal health information that needed extra care to manage whilst at work. Without hesitation, the business owner gave a clear commitment of support and offered to create a work-station that better met the new employees' needs.

A mindful leader embodies leadership presence through their focus, clarity, creativity and compassion in the service of others. I could clearly sense all four of these mindful leadership qualities.

But what I found most striking (and delightful) about this encounter was that none of these three people meeting were women - they were all men.

Professional men, dressed in charcoal suits who each bore a strong physical presence and air of success, as well as a quirky, relaxed and compassionate warmth.

I'm not suggesting that men are not mindful leaders. I am fortunate to personally know many inspirational male leaders who are very self-aware! But often it's been my experience that the 'softer skills' essential for successful and mindful corporate leadership like creativity and compassion are given lesser importance and are therefore less developed in the average male leader.

We can all learn to lead with excellence by cultivating our inherent capabilities to focus on what's important, to see more clearly what is presenting itself, to foster greater creativity and to embody compassion.

Mindfulness for both male and female leaders alike involves making more conscious choices about how we manage at work, how we manage ourselves and how we live our lives.

This mindful leadership that I was privileged to witness first-hand just made my day.

Natalie Snooke is an experienced Mindful Leadership Coach, Meditation Teacher and the founder of Momentum. She specialises in guiding leaders to develop focus, presence, creativity and compassion in their personal and professional lives. She has a background in human resource management and takes a pragmatic yet light-hearted approach to her work. 

How yoga and gardening get you back to your true nature

Alison Hilton - Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Most days my garden is my yoga. Its a joy and an ongoing reminder of impermanence and the cycle of birth, growth, flourishing and decay.

As a self-confessed gardening nerd, as well as a yogi, I love sharing tips and tricks with other more experienced gardeners and, most of all, just being 'in it' - outside with nature's green, the air and the earth.

Maybe it’s the oxygen and the beauty of nature or maybe it is just the thrill of watching something growing and transforming day by day.  Just like us, anyone with an observant eye will notice that a garden is forever changing. Not only from the seasons and weather patterns but also the animals that inhabit the space and our skills and impacts as gardeners - and as yoga practitioners.

The more I think about it, the cycle in a garden mirrors the yoga journey throughout our lives.

Sowing a seed in yoga practice first requires a healthy foundation, just as a gardener needs to tend the soil before planting. There needs to be just enough sunlight and the right combination of healthy soil and water for seedlings to burst through the soil.  In yoga practice, there needs to be just the right amount of focused yet relaxed attention, control of the breath and placement of the body for the energy to flow. 

In a garden, it’s all about the soil. It needs to be well-fed with just the right amount of nutrients for plants and flowers to grow well - and so too for us.

For yoga practice to work its wonders, our body needs the best nourishment we can give it – fresh, high-quality food in the right proportions, adequate water, plenty of rest and tender loving care. Over time through consistent self care, we begin to notice positive shifts in our physical, mental and emotional health, just as a plant begins to thicken its stalk and produce branches. 

In plants and in our yoga journey, the small changes that happen day by day are almost imperceivable but after a while, we notice just how much growth there's been.

We might notice how we have become calmer, how our tight hips have loosened or our self-esteem has improved after a few months of regular practice. Just as we might realise how tall a plant has become and delight as tiny blossums appear.

An experienced gardener expects results from their garden instantly. They might think that just planting a shrub will result in it growing! Whereas the seasoned gardener, just like the seasoned yogi, knows there is a little more to it. The key to that shrub really flourishing is the careful planning, soil cultivation and patience - just as the seasoned yogi knows the importance of having the right mindset and lifestyle to support yoga practice so we flourish in the long term. 

 Gardeners also know that there are times when we need to prune, to cut right back to the base of a plant in order for it to survive and thrive. It can look stark, bold and be quite scary to do. But after a few weeks its amazing how thickly and beautifully a plant will respond with new shoots and growth.

In a yoga practice, time and time again we need to come back to the basics. Back to the moment, back to the breath and the simplicity of it all, rather than trying to add another technique or try another yoga style or another yoga teacher. Although it can be confronting to come back to the basics rather than to entertain the whims of the mind, in yoga, less is more.  Simplicity leads to a depth of growth and inner stability, often in surprising ways.

Just as you'd think about your garden, consider where you are at in your life and in your yoga practice:

  • How might you better tend to yourself and your yoga practice?
  • Are you allowing enough time for your yoga practice (and your self growth) to really flourish?
  • What nutrients are missing from your self-care? 
  • Does anything need to be pruned back for you to rediscover simplicity?

Both gardening and yoga are about connecting us with nature and noticing things just as they are. And they are the perfect fit when it comes to reconnecting us with our true, inner nature - that's calm, content and blissful.

Happy gardening and happy yoga!

Alison Hilton has been teaching yoga at Momentum for six years and specialises in pre and postnatal yoga classes. When not refining her tree pose she is most likely to be found pruning one or smiling joyfully in her garden!  


5 ways to overcome fear and anxiety

Natalie Snooke - Thursday, July 07, 2016

There isn't a person alive who doesn't experience fear.

As a coach and teacher who has had the privilege of working fairly intimately with hundreds of people over the years, I get to witness the positive and negative effects of fear first-hand. 

Being able to experience and move past fear, nervousness, self-doubt and worry is a skill most of us could become much better at. 

When we successfully manage our fears we live courageously, make good decisions, participate fully in relationships and enjoy a fulfilling life. And we feel good about ourselves!

Yet if our fear isn't addressed and well-managed, especially with the pace and complexity of modern life, it can easily become chronic anxiety with debilitating health, wellbeing and social impacts. 

Anxiety disorders have become the most common illnesses in Australia and the western world. According to Beyond Blue in Australia now one in every three women and one in every five men will experience anxiety - as will one in every six young people aged 16-24. That's pretty staggering when you think about it.

So what exactly is fear?

We know about the 'genuine form' of fear. It's one of the four primary human emotional states along with happiness/pleasure, sadness and anger. Fear's job is to let us know when things aren't 'quite right', to guide us to be safe and to look after ourselves. Like making us wait on the kerb so we don't cross the road in front of traffic. Healthy fear enables us to make good practical choices for how to live. 

Fear also has what I'll call a 'lesser form' that causes us the most problems. These subtler, more common fears come in the form of niggling worries, self-doubt, negativity, criticism and even procrastination. They are fears that we 'perceive' to be true, yet aren't. Things like: 

  • fear of speaking-up
  • worrying about what other people think 
  • fear of being rejected or not liked
  • fear of failing
  • fear of not being good enough
  • fear of not being able to cope. 
Which ones do you relate most to?

The impact of these lesser fears accumulates and puts us in a state of stagnation, confusion, defensiveness or makes us feel like we're just surviving - none of which are helpful in the long-run. They keep us stuck from taking healthy risks and meaningful steps forward in our personal or professional lives - and prevent us from being the person we'd really like to be or from living the life we'd rather be living. 

When we take a closer look at our lesser fears we find they're actually not that accurate, big or scary, its just that we've believed them and built-them-up to be that way. More on that later.

Mindfulness and breaking down fear.

If we break-down each fear experience it actually has two components: a thinking or story component; as well as an energetic component of felt sensations in the body. Most often we pay too much attention to (and get lost in) our 'story' and not enough attention to simply 'feeling' the raw bodily sensations of our fear. By developing mindfulness or self-awareness we get much better at being with our fears as a way of releasing them. Again, more on that later.

Fear also also tends to be a rather slippery emotion. Sometimes it hides beneath sadness or anger or even beneath the surface of our conscious awareness. We might strategically bypass or deny our fear but nonetheless it goes about sabotaging us and prevents us from being happy, without us even being aware of it. 

We all have the capacity to see through and overcome our fears. It's about putting fear into a healthy perspective, learning to be brave, putting into place helpful skills and practices and believing in your 'best' self. How?

These five approaches will get you on your way.

1. Understand that the root-cause of fear is your mind.

At its fundamental level, the root-cause of fear is over-identification with the egoic mind (as well as the limbic system that controls our emotions). We believe that we ARE our thoughts or emotions. We believe (and give unnecessary power to) the negative stories and self-beliefs that we tell ourselves. We lose the ability to see ourselves beyond our thoughts. 

Know that there is an aspect of you that is not fearful, an aspect that is beyond fear and doubt. Although it might be awkward or challenging at first, learn to get in touch with and experience this part of yourself. 

Take three deep breaths to relax and begin to notice yourself as the 'aware presence' that just witnesses your fearful thoughts and emotions - that part of you that is free and beyond the fear itself. (If you're having trouble relating to what I'm saying, don't worry, just keep reading because one of the other approaches will probably resonate more for you!)

2. RAIN - recognise and accept yourself as you are.

The RAIN approach, developed by psychologist and teacher Tara Brach, is a simple way of befriending and overcoming all sorts of emotional states including fear. It reminds us that all emotional states are temporary, they come and they go if we give them the chance to do so. The power of this step-by-step approach is in accepting yourself just as you are and showing self-compassion. 

Recognize what is going on. You might say to yourself: 'right now I am scared' or 'right now I am feeling anxious'.
Allow the experience to be there, just as it is. There's no need to change anything.
Investigate with interest and care. Become curious about what's going on inside you. Observe your thoughts and the sensations in your body.
Nourish with self-compassion. Go gently with yourself in the process. Treat yourself kindly. Let go of expectations and judgments. 

3. Adopt a life-long mindfulness practice - how yoga and meditation helps overcome fear.

Begin a regular yoga and/or meditation practice and stick with it over a number of years to experience its full fear-busting benefits. 

Yoga involves working mindfully with the body and the breath to enhance and balance our flow of energy. When we practice authentic yoga regularly over a period of time our energy flow increases and we become more and more attuned to noticing and accepting all of the various sensations, thoughts and emotions that dwell within us in any given moment. For example, we might notice when we become scared before attempting a new yoga posture. Our yoga teacher is there to gently encourage us to safely 'feel and meet' this fear rather than running from it, denying it or indulging in it. Despite the fear, we give the posture our best and be happy with our efforts. 

A similar process happens in meditation. We train ourselves to be mindful, to focus and notice things that arise in us moment by moment. If fear or self-doubt arises we learn to gently 'be' with it and to give it time to dissolve. Over time as we become more skilled we become better able to experience fear and its impacts on us tend to lessen. 

By applying these skills we learn in yoga and meditation we become skillful in overcoming fears in our daily life. And when we stop resisting feeling fear, we give ourselves the opportunity to open to the deeper peace and joy that's naturally within us. This is the ultimate goal of yoga and meditation.

According to Yoga Australia the peak professional body for yoga in Australia, there is a growing number of scientific studies that confirm the evidence of yoga and meditation's positive health and wellbeing benefits on anxiety.

4. Get support with therapy or coaching.

When we are facing our fears we are really confronting ourselves. Getting the support and confidence of someone else is crucial if you are really serious about overcoming your fears - I know that I would not be who or where I am today if it wasn't for the valuable support of both professions at different stages of my personal growth. I truly believe that it takes the support of someone else to allow us to grow into our fullest potential.

A good psychologist or therapist will support you to understand and be with your fear and anxiety. A good life coach or executive coach specialising in mindfulness will also help you to deepen your self-awareness, identify your unique vision, values and goals and take meaningful steps to move you forwards. Both professions will teach you invaluable skills that you can adopt and master for happier everyday living.

5. Choose LOVE over fear.

The opposite of fear is love. Fear cannot exist where there is love. By this I mean seeing the goodness in life and adopting the attitude, confidence and trust that life is 'for us' instead of 'against us'. 

Choosing to live from a place of love means that you are ruthlessly committed to creating and finding goodness, hope, peace and harmony in yourself, in others and in the world - as opposed to competition, blaming, one-up-manship and the need to prove oneself - which are all fear-based. Love opens and expands. Love is courageous. Love is strength. Choosing love evokes our greatest human and spiritual potential.

Choosing love is however not for the faint hearted, but it is powerful beyond words! I recommend books and talks by empowering spiritual teachers/leaders such as Michael Beckwith, Deepak Chopra, Wayne Dyer, Tara Brach and Marianne Williamson - and I'm sure there are others. 

Embracing life and overcoming fear are one and the same. At Momentum Coaching & Yoga we stand for, honour and support the best, most courageous and most loving version of you - always.

With love,

What is mindfulness?

Natalie Snooke - Friday, April 29, 2016

Mindfulness. I well remember the time in my early 20's when I first made the discovery. When I realised I could 'observe' my own mind without getting involved in its story. 

I was at a communications skills workshop with well-known facilitator Rachel Green, who had us in pairs talking and listening. One person had to talk while the other person had to listen and at the same time, watch their own internal dialogue and reactions. As I was listening to my partner, I realised that I could also see what was going-on with my thoughts and reactions without getting caught up in them or in the other person's story. It was one of those light-bulb moments. 

Up until that point in my life, it hadn't really dawned on me that I could actually 'watch' my own mind. 

It was like I had discovered a new way of being with myself - not that I had any idea of the significance of this discovery at the time, I just thought it was pretty cool! And later as an adult, this realisation would deepen, become the cornerstone of my life and lead to tremendous growth and joy, as well as my fair-share of frustrations along the way.

I had discovered the art of mindfulness - the capacity of human beings to be mindful or self-aware. 

We all have an inner-observer. A part of us that is simply aware or conscious of what is going on around us and, that can also be aware of whatever is going on within us. It is widely accepted amongst scientists that the capacity to be self-aware is what distinguishes humans from other animals, yet its significance and importance is often misunderstood and under-valued, especially when it comes to our happiness and sense of fulfillment in life.

In fact, mindfulness is the essential ingredient of creativity, wisdom, authentic happiness and living to our highest potential. 

What is mindfulness?

Mindfulness has several aspects to it. As we make our way through life it means to:

  • be aware of our thoughts, feelings, senses and physical experiences, moment to moment;
  • pay attention to our immediate surroundings;
  • be at ease and allow whatever is happening and;
  • be kind and intentional in our thoughts, words and actions.
The concept of mindfulness originates from the ancient Buddhist tradition and the Pali word sati meaning to remember. It is understood that without having some foundations of mindfulness, something to anchor our attention to, we simply 'forget' to be present. And this leads us to suffer and be unhappy.

Although mindfulness is a simple approach, and most people can understand it, it isn't easy and takes effort to put into practice. 

Unfortunately our conditioning and our habits, the things that we do mindlessly, get in the way. We've trained ourselves in unhealthy ways - with the help of things like Facebook, Thermomixes and a materialistic, complex and technologically-driven world - to have a fairly scattered quality of attention. Somehow, we've convinced ourselves that we feel good when we multi-task and get as many things done as quickly as we can, whilst often paying little attention to the details and to what we are thinking or how we are feeling in the moment. 

Because we tend to be two-steps ahead and focussing on the future (or 'shoulding' about the past) rather than in 'the now' we therefore 'miss out' on a lot of what's actually going on inside us. This means that we can't access our creativity, we aren't able to be in our hearts and fully connect with others, we miss the warning signs that our body isn't coping or all too often, we feel like we don't know who we are anymore. I witness many people who suffer from one or more of these symptoms - also known as a mid-life crisis.

Is this making sense?

Consider how mindful you are in a typical day. If you:
  • spend most of your time remembering or regretting about what you 'should' have had, said or felt and/or;
  • spend most of your time thinking, planning, hoping or worrying about what you're going to have, do, say or feel like 'next' and/or;
  • drive somewhere but once you arrive you cannot remember anything about the journey you've just taken and/or;
  • find yourself forgetting someone's name after you've just been introduced to them only moments before, then this would indicate that you are normal! But that you're not paying full attention in the present moment - you're not being as mindful as you could.
Mindfulness is not about perfection.

Sure, being mindful one hundered percent of the time is a challenging task and we are not seeking some impossible perfection! Part of the paradox of mindfulness is that it's about accepting and allowing ourselves and life to be just as it is, warts and all.

With mindfulness, there's a middle-path to explore, a way for us to create balance between accepting things as they are and putting in meaningful effort to create greater ease and harmony. Most of us would find we'd feel more naturally happy and satisfied with ourselves, others, our work and our life if we were more self-aware, more allowing and more mindful. 

The benefits of mindfulness.

Plenty of research compiled at the American Mindfulness Research Association shows that mindfulness reduces stress at work, improves heart health, enables us to better manage our food intake and improves the quality of our relationships. Being mindful or not can be the difference between: being stressed or being comfortable; feeling anxious or feeling at ease and; suffering in life or embracing life as it is.

When we become more mindful, we gain clarity about what's really important to us and we're able to peel away some of the unnecessary complexities of life. 

One of the best ways to cultivate mindfulness is through a regular meditation or yoga practice. These kinds of body-centred practice trains us to remain present and anchored to our body and our breath, as well as to be allowing and kind to ourselves, moment by moment. And anyone can learn these skills.

To learn more about mindfulness and how to practise it in daily life, we recommend starting with our Beginner's Meditation Courseand Beginner's Yoga Courses, run throughout the year at our centre in Melville.

Over time, mindfulness allows us to suffer less and to love more. It leads us inwards, back to our heart, to the greatest ease and joy that's available to any human being. Are you open to it?

Wishing you well in the moment!

How to be calm and content even when you're not on holidays

Natalie Snooke - Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Returning from India, after several weeks on retreat and holidays - exploring temples, meditating and practicing yoga for extended periods, laughing with local village men and women, walks along the beach, shopping for colourful fabrics and gifts, savouring spices and zesty foods - having amazing experiences without having to worry about cooking, cleaning or other daily chores, it would be easy to feel sad and regret being back home.

But that's not the case.

Like many clients and students I work with, I used to think that being truly content and calm was only possible when I was on holidays. During those times when I wasn't working, when I didn't have bills to pay and when I didn't have to do things I didn't want to do. Then after one holiday I had to plan the next holiday to get me through.

Contentment and calm in daily life is closer to us than we might think. At our core, in our heart we are peacefully happy. It's our nature. It's the very foundation of our being, yet somehow along the pathway of life, we've managed to 'unlearn' and forget this.

Contentment and calm is about creating - and recreating - daily balance so that we can know this within. It's about being clear about our real priorities and putting them into practice everyday. 

Holidays and taking regular time-off from work are essential for our wellbeing. But if we realise that we don't have to be on holidays in order to feel peaceful or happy with ourselves, then we can save ourselves a lot of extra energy, effort and frustration. Not to mention money.  

Being home and back working at Momentum, despite the fact that I had business emails and projects to catch up on, bills to pay, a garden to tend and meals to prepare, I found that I could really enjoy these responsibilities and duties. I could commit to simply doing each task fully - living in the moment without wishing I was back on retreat. I could also relish moments of joy like gazing up at the golden full-moon. And I've come to realise that its because of a few simple, fundamental things that have become my way-of-life over the years, things that I do everyday that don't take a lot of time, that has allowed a deep, positive impact to accummulate. 

Sure, my life is no bed of roses, I still have my moments! But generally I'm able to be calm and content most days, no matter what I'm doing or what life demands of me. 

The secret is simple and often. So here they are. 

Meditate in the early-morning. Getting up around sunrise and spending (at least) the first 10 minutes of every day sitting in silent meditation or contemplation is profoundly powerful. Relax as you focus on the natural breath. Doing this connects you within and creates a calm focus for the day ahead.

Practice gratitude. Writing in a journal about five things, people, opportunities or your character-traits that you are grateful for, big or small cultivates genuine gratitude and compassion. Try and make your five different everyday. This practice is heart-opening and expands your presence. The vibration of gratitude makes us more receptive to the good in life. 

Know your purpose. Knowing what you're doing and why you're doing it is personally empowering. Find out the bigger purpose to you and your life, that underpins everything that you do. And if you aren't sure about this, then start to question yourself or seek some life coaching support to clarify it. It makes all the difference! 

It's this type of approach that we all need to adopt if we are sincere about wanting to be calm and content in our everyday lives. Then our holidays can truly add to our wellbeing and to the rich tapestry of our life-experience, rather than become a desperate escape from the very life that beckons us to realise who we are and embrace this, each and every day.

How will you start your day tomorrow?


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